Tech Talk: Practical Procuring

April 1, 2009
Leveling the playing field for technology bidders.

Why do schools have a hard time selecting qualified technology bidders? First, schools that use lowest price only to select technology integrators either pay for what they get or don't get what they expected. Low-bid selection of technology integrators, required for many schools, is a confrontational process. Second, after a request for proposal (RFP) has been released and bids taken, the procedure for awarding changes.

The objective of procurement is to buy materials, supplies and equipment of the right quality in the right quantity from the right source at the right price at the proper time. When dollars rule, vendors look to create an advantage for themselves by disregarding some bid requirements to keep their price low. By looking only at dollars, the institution may turn a blind eye to the bid requirements it prepared. This scenario is becoming more prevalent in bidding technology projects.

Many reputable technology vendors are out there, and most play by the rules outlined in the bid specifications. Here is what happens: bids are received and given a loose evaluation, then award decisions are made — based not upon the bid specifications, but on some of the following:

  • "This firm is just right down the street, and the low bidder is miles away."

  • "This firm has done work with us before, even though they may be more expensive."

  • "Even though they cost more, they have a good reputation."

  • "Even though this bid is low, we just don't like the firm."

Although those reasons may be valid, the bid documents did not spell out or were not clear as to how the winning bid would be determined. When bids are not awarded to the lowest responsive bidder, it cheats those who played by the rules.

These unpleasant experiences could be minimized if education institutions developed a clear set of bid documents that include instructions for bidders (IFB). In general, public bidding documents are not required to include an IFB, but as a practical matter, it is critical. By the terms of the IFB, a school establishes the "rules of the game" for bidding. In the IFB, the institution can consider and provide for handling many of the typical issues that arise in competitive bidding, such as:

  • Minimum qualifications to bid.

  • References completed within a specific numbers of years on a similar scope of school projects.

  • Strict conformity with product specifications and the bidding process.

  • Bid security.

  • A brief description of the evaluation criteria.

By providing well-defined bid documents, institutions can minimize the chances of rejected bidders challenging contract awards. Making sure bid documents spell out expectations will ensure that all bidders are treated fairly.

C. William Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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